A Post-Pandemic Emergency: The Contraception Crisis in the Making
September 26th is World Contraception Day. Population Services International (PSI) has been working to expand access to contraceptive products and services for 50 years. But in 2020, COVID-19 is threatening global health systems – and making access to contraception fraught. PSI’s Global Medical Director, Dr. Eva Lathrop, explains this growing crisis and how PSI is responding.
Hadiya* — a mother of four — shares fears with many moms I know. She’s anxious about contracting COVID-19. She’s worried about how she will continue educating her children if schools do not re-open. She can’t sleep because her husband hasn’t been able to earn much money due to the pandemic.
During this uncertain time, the one thing Hadiya is certain about: she cannot afford to have another child.
But Hadiya doesn’t live here in the United States. She lives in a remote village in Pakistan where contraception is difficult to access even in normal times. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is making it even harder for women to access sexual and reproductive health in countries around the world.
An obstetrician-gynecologist by training, I am the Global Medical Director for PSI, an organization dedicated to helping women in the developing world overcome their greatest health challenges — many of them related to sexual and reproductive health.
We are losing ground. Health services we have spent decades building — that care for women’s essential health needs — are collapsing because of COVID-19 and the impact will be felt for years to come if we don’t double down our efforts.
Even with a modest 10% decline in availability of contraceptive services and comprehensive obstetric care, there could be an additional 50 million women with an unmet need for contraception, nearly 16 million additional unintended pregnancies with 2 million additional women experiencing a major obstetric complication and one thousand additional maternal deaths.
This is an unconscionable crisis for women.
As we’ve seen here in the United States, a pandemic can quickly overwhelm health systems. In many countries where PSI works, already-strained health systems are failing. Further, health services devoted to caring for women are often the most fragile so they fail first and fastest — causing lasting and far-reaching repercussions.
PSI is responding by:
- Ensuring contraceptive supplies can reach women in countries where we work.
- Providing health workers on the front-lines with PPE and adapted guidelines to keep themselves and our clients safe while providing services.
- Bringing care to clients’ doorsteps-through digital channels to reach people with information, through the expansion of self- managed care options, referrals, telemedicine, chatbots and online campaigns, and direct to client delivery.
- Re-establishing the supply chain for low cost, quality products.
In addition to my work at PSI, I am fortunate to be able to care for women in my hometown of Atlanta. I provide comprehensive reproductive health services – obstetric and contraception care – and I have the great privilege of hearing my patient’s stories.
They’ve shared fear, for themselves, their babies, their families. They’ve shared anxieties about needing to seek health services in the midst of a pandemic. They’ve shared sadness for the uncountable losses. But they also share hope for a better future for themselves and their families.
It is through this lens that I think of the women and families PSI serves.
There is fear. There is loss. But there is also hope. We must leverage this moment to make way for groundbreaking solutions and we must demand a global commitment to provide every woman — no matter where she lives — with quality access to sexual and reproductive health care.
September 26 is World Contraception Day. Learn more about how PSI is combating this growing crisis and what you can do to support on PSI’s website.